Over Editing and The Creative Process

Editors are often great at what they do and they are an essential cog in the editorial machinery, but sometimes editors are not so great. Sometimes editors become micro-managers. Sometimes editors over edit, again and again, without justifiable cause, because a writer said something in a way, they themselves, would not have said it. Over editing puts artistic diversity at risk and is one of the greatest detriments to a productive editorial process.

Over editing makes writers wary of submitting their work for publication, it makes writers lose confidence in their artistic abilities (stylistic and technical) and it stifles the diversification of distinct voices that speak to the multitude and variance of the modern human experience. Media outlets employ multiple writers for the sake of having multiple voices that appeal to widely disparate demographics. If all those diverse voices are channelled through one outlet, an editor who over edits work, then the voices coming out on the other end lose their authenticity. They become voices that sound too similar, saying things that are all the same. A unified voice is not the same thing as an identical voice.

I doubt there is a writer out there who hasn’t come across at least one editor who over edits. I do work as an editor. I myself, have fallen into the trap of over editing. It’s easy to become carried away. One of the best skills you can hone is to detach yourself from another writer’s work. To look at it objectively and pinpoint problem areas, that is a skill that helps everyone. Re-writing for the pure sake of style smothers artistic expression and creates hostility  in an environment that should be creatively productive.

Would you paint over another artist’s canvas?

Imagine if I was a painter and the curator of the gallery who displayed my work came along and said, ‘You know, I think this colour would have been better here, and if I were you I would have used a different brush stroke there… can you just move for a second.” Then, in the blink of an eye she’d whipped out a brush and palette and smothered a unique and irreplaceable utterance of my soul in fresh globs of angry pigment, obscuring the reality of my voice.

How would you react to that? With resentment? Anger? I would. I do. I boil inside when my work is over edited. I hammer at my keyboard and send scathing private messages to my Facebook gal pals about how I hate her hate her hate her (or him). I scribble nasty comments on my pages, envision stabbing said editor in the eyes with my vicious pen. After my initial rage burns away I’m left feeling empty, with a single unanswerable question hanging in my mind.


Why was your sentence, your new sentence, which spoke my ideas in the most unfamiliar of words, so much better than mine? It wasn’t grammar, I know my grammar was fine, if not impeccable. It was that my voice and your voice didn’t mesh. When you read my words, you only heard how your words would say it. You ruffled your feathers because I express differently than you. Then, you took your mighty pen and scribbled all over my text, inserting yourself—your voice—into my story. And, when I ask, when I am direct, the answer is always the same: I don’t see what you’re talking about, it looks fine to me.

Working with an editor should be about polishing, improving and clarifying your writing. It should be a mutually positive experience. It should not leave your writers feeling neurotic and emotional. It shouldn’t be disheartening and disempowering. The worst feeling in the world is receiving an email from an editor who has a history of over editing your work. Before you even open it you know whatever it says will be negative, know whatever you’re about to read printed on the page will be written with a voice that’s unrecognizable.

Grammar. It’s important. A sentence can’t possibly convey an idea accurately to a reader if it isn’t constructed properly. If a sentence is poorly constructed, the meaning can become twisted or the sentence can be construed in multiple ways, depending on how it’s read. Editing for grammar, that’s good. Verbosity. It’s, well, verbose. Words, for the sake of words; sometimes writers get carried away with language. Editing to make a work more concise, that’s good. Cohesion. Connecting paragraphs and ideas in the best order is important. Editing for smoother movement through a text, that’s good. The inverted pyramid. The subject and the most important bits first, because modern readers have a tendency to lose focus. Reorganization can have great benefits to a text.

Editing to rip apart a writer’s works, to extract their specific and purposeful choice of words, and insert your own words, your own voice, to make yourself more comfortable, that’s wrong. That’s bad. Your writer’s experience is unique, he or she brought something to their article or story that you could never have imbibed in it, and when you start meddling with their language and their imagery you impede the transmission of their intended message to it’s intended audience.

This is not a hate on editors. Editors are good. Editors make our writing better. Editors can be a guiding force that push their writers to greater heights. However, we should remain vigilant against over editing. Writers are artists too and there is nothing that protects our work from a micro-managing editor, except the singular choice to withdraw our story, or article, from publication. That’s not enough.

p.s. do you like my nod to Iain Banks?


10 Ways To Make New Years Resolutions Stick

(Original image: Voices From Russia)
10 Tips To Make it Stick
The New Years hype and high is starting to wear off. Those post-holiday blues are starting to set in. January is nearly half over; this is the point when people start losing momentum with their resolutions. No one likes to lose momentum. There’s little that’s more humbling, or humiliating I suppose, then screeching to an earth shattering halt on your way to self-improvement. Especially in our era of social media. Sharing your bold and ambitious New Years goals with the world makes it so much more gratifying if you succeed, but you also take the risk of exposing your failure a hundred fold if you don’t.

My news feed was an avalanche of resolutions on January 1st. The first week of the month was rife with pictures and hash tags on my instagram feed of people hitting the gym, or whatever people do in the first week of January. I’ve already noticed a noticeable decrease in these types of posts. For everyone’s sake I hope people are simply becoming more lazy about over-sharing and haven’t actually given up quite yet.

Personally, I despise New Years resolutions. I think there is too much pressure. Personal growth should be part of our daily lives; we should always strive to learn and try new things, not give a half-assed attempt annually. What does the Earth making a full rotation around the sun really have to do with your life?

However, if you are a true believer then there is advice floating around out there about how to make a lasting resolution:

  1.  Keep it specific. I’m going to lose weight is so lofty and broad that it’s bound to fail. Instead try something like I’m going to lose 20 lbs by July.
  2. Clarify how you are going to succeedI’m going to broaden my cultural tastes by reading five books in five genres I’ve never tried. 
  3. Plan ahead: Choose the books or genres now. Get your gym membership in advance. Do your research early on.
  4. Don’t be afraid to share it. If people know what you are striving towards they can encourage you, recognize your success and nudge you backwards from the brink of failure.
  5. Have a reward system. Do you want something you feel like you shouldn’t indulge in -> an iphone 6 perhaps? But only once you’ve reached your goal.
  6. Track your progress. If your goal is to read five new books you better record it. Well five isn’t hard to remember, but what if your goal was 50?
  7. Don’t give up. If you’ve lost momentum in January, start again in February. It’s ok, it’s allowed. I’m all for re-starting resolutions 12 times a year, what I’m not for is starting once and forgetting all about it 3 weeks later, then starting again next year… and repeat.
  8. Start small. One resolution will do you, if you have 10 goals you are an over achiever or unrealistic.
  9. Pin it, and not to Pinterest. Make a real life pin board up on your wall. Somewhere you will see it everyday and be reminded of what you are trying to achieve.
  10. Get a partner and do it together. A healthy dose of competition only ever helped anyone.

If, like me, you aren’t a true believer, if you want to do something different this year then check out my latest column in The Cliffhanger:

Dip Your Toes In The Water – By Jennifer Schleich

It’s the time of New Year’s resolutions. I’m not going to talk about them much more; I have a great distaste for New Year’s resolutions. But, they make me think about something else: trying new things.

It’s a new year so it’s an obvious opportunity to do something different. Every year brings new experiences and no year is the same as the last by any means. Just check out your Facebook Year in Review for proof of how much can happen in the span of one year. But, how many of us will spontaneously decide to try an activity outside our comfort zone?

I think in the back of all of our minds are stray thoughts like, “I’ve always kind of wanted to play the banjo,” or, “I’d like to try surfing.” These are thoughts and interests that come without serious conviction, which we don’t focus on too often. However, simply because we don’t act on these thoughts doesn’t mean they are worthless.

If you have a passing interest in surfing, it can’t possibly hurt to try. Did you know Ontario’s Great Lakes host some of the best fresh water surfing locations in the world? How about that banjo – I’m sure someone in your town could teach you.

There are always a thousand excuses not to try something new, but if this was the year you wanted to make a change, if you are the kind of person (not like me) who likes New Year’s resolutions, perhaps even the kind of person who likes to make them and not follow through, why not simply decide to try something new instead: no commitment necessary!

No commitment necessary. If you don’t like it, just keep moving. It’s very common these days to find classes and instructors who provide all the materials. There are sporting stores that rent out and lend expensive equipment to customers who want to dip their toes in the water before they jump in with their clothes on.

Maybe you’re one of those people who has an established hobby so you rarely bother trying something new. I have a hunter in my house. He hunts a lot, he talks about hunting a lot and he buys a lot of hunting stuff. I’m a firm believer in having many interests, so for Christmas this year I didn’t get him hunting paraphernalia. I got him guitar lessons. Rest assured, it wasn’t out of the blue. Guitar lessons were his stray thought, something he’s kind of always wanted to do but never got around to.

Why not give your stray thought a chance this year? It really can’t hurt.